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Dear America, I Saw You Naked
January 31, 2014 10:48 AM   Subscribe

The TSA saw the near-miss as proof that aviation security could not be ensured without the installation of full-body scanners in every U.S. airport. But the agency’s many critics called its decision just another knee-jerk response to an attempted terrorist attack. I agreed, and wrote to the Times saying as much. My boss wasn’t happy about it.
“The problem we have here is that you identified yourself as a TSA employee,” she said.

Jason Harrington, author of the formerly anonymous Taking Sense Away blog, on his experiences as a dissenter inside of the Transportation Security Administration.
posted by gauche (71 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this earlier today. It just confirms my suspicions that most of what TSA does is for show, and when they're called out on it, it becomes an excuse to spend even more money on show.
posted by xingcat at 10:50 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Arm the flight attendants with mace and make the cockpits self contained and physically inaccessible.
posted by edgeways at 10:55 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


(1) he's not an officer or an agent, he's a screener.

(2) the interaction of the First Amendment with a government employee is complex. He may be right. But who knows, because he can't appeal anything.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


The only reason I could ever restrain myself from throwing the double bird every time that I go into 'the position' is that I want to get to my destination.
posted by wotsac at 10:59 AM on January 31 [12 favorites]


Every now and then, a passenger would throw up two middle fingers during his or her scan, as though somehow aware of the transgressions going on.

Nice to know I'm not the only one who does this.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:59 AM on January 31 [8 favorites]


Arm the flight attendants with mace and make the cockpits self contained and physically inaccessible.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I would not be comfortable getting onto a flight where it was literally physically impossible (read: thick metal wall) for the passengers to be allowed access to the cockpit in event of a medical emergency or other situation. Built so that it takes five minutes for a large group of able-bodied passengers to break down the door (without other passengers interfering)? Sure. Completely inaccessible... yeah, no, I wouldn't step foot on that plane unless I literally had no other choice.
posted by Ryvar at 11:00 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


I used to opt out and now I don't because it feels futile. So that's sad.
posted by pwally at 11:01 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]


My decision to not enter the US?
Looking pretty good right now.

I am pretty fucking dark we are starting to get these in .au (especially with the George Dubya Bush training-wheel government we have now) so I guess I won't be flying anywhere.
posted by Mezentian at 11:03 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see that the bulk of their time spent on the job is dedicated to identifying attractive women for federally enforced objectification.

and by nice i mean ha ha fuck you
posted by elizardbits at 11:04 AM on January 31 [43 favorites]


Also he claims to be sworn in the side bar. He is not a sworn officer. Sworn officers may engage in law enforcement. Screeners may not.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:04 AM on January 31


The one lasting signature achievement of the Bush administration.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:08 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


My decision to not enter the US?
Looking pretty good right now.


If it's the thought of someone looking at blurry x-rays of your body that you're referring to, you might want to know that those machines have been dropped by the TSA. They now have ones that just show objects on a generic human-body outline.

He's sensationalizing pretty heavily with the "I saw you naked" line. The very image used for the article shows just how far from "seeing you naked" the images produced by those machines were.
posted by yoink at 11:08 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Arm the flight attendants with mace and make the cockpits self contained and physically inaccessible.

Also, they should have little compartments with hunting knives that open during a hijacking, if things really get out of hand, sort of like the oxygen mask compartments.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:09 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


I can't speak for anyone else, but I would not be comfortable getting onto a flight where it was literally physically impossible (read: thick metal wall) for the passengers to be allowed access to the cockpit in event of a medical emergency or other situation. Built so that it takes five minutes for a large group of able-bodied passengers to break down the door (without other passengers interfering)? Sure. Completely inaccessible... yeah, no, I wouldn't step foot on that plane unless I literally had no other choice.

I was curious if this was ever an issue. Straight Dope had the details. In no cases did they actually pilot. They only assisted as standin copilots. Three times.

On the other hand a lot of aircraft hijackings actually happen.

So in order to preserve the opportunity for a movie trope you are not really interested in thoroughly preventing actual threats.
posted by srboisvert at 11:09 AM on January 31 [13 favorites]


Also he claims to be sworn in the side bar.

He may be confused by the fact that, as a federal employee, he swore the usual oath.
posted by jedicus at 11:11 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


(1) he's not an officer or an agent, he's a screener.

(2) the interaction of the First Amendment with a government employee is complex. He may be right. But who knows, because he can't appeal anything.


That's great. Do you have any commentary on the substance of his story, or is this just one dead messenger we're dealing with?
posted by jaduncan at 11:13 AM on January 31 [20 favorites]


Most of the screening we go through is for sure. We know it, the screeners know it, the pilots and crew sure as heck know it, the government knows it, but we can't quit it because, collectively, we lack the will to make the change. Or, more to the point, our politicians are too afraid of supporting something that is common sense because if they do and something bad happens (which it inevitably will, or if it doesn't something minor will be blown up by a news station into the WORST THING EVA) their opponents might be able to score points against them come next election.

Democracy in action.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:19 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


The thing about making the cockpit completely inaccessible sets the clock back pre-9/11 when hijackings where of the "take me to Havana/give me a ransom" categories. Where three wasn't the fear of having the plane turned into a ballistic missile. As traumatic as the ransom/fly me to X scenarios where to live through at least there was a reasonable expectation of living though it. Add to that attendants with non lethal but debilitating defense capabilities...
You still do due diligence and use metal detectors and dogs and suchlike, but you dial back the over reliance on complex technology and questionable security paranoia. The sheer amount of $ saved would be tremendous and I'd wager we'd be overall more safe in the air.
Sealing the cockpit: put three people in there for redundancy sake, hell, have the third position be a requirement for people in training to be full fledged pilots, and I don't see how it's any less safe than flinging people around the globe in tubes of metal is. But the point would be, if there is NO WAY to take physical control of the plane then the is zero motivation to fly it into buildings, which is what caused this puppet show int he first place. Think about it, simply having that one thing in place would mean we likely would never have invaded Iraq the second time (and possibly Afghanistan), how many Trillions of dollars and millions of lives has that wasted?
posted by edgeways at 11:32 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Arm the flight attendants with mace

This would probably turn out very badly.

First of all, releasing mace or anything like it (pepper spray, etc) in a sealed environment would affect everybody on the plane. Except the pilots, I suppose. So there's that.

Secondly, those chemical weapons (banned for use in warfare, btw, but it's okay - governments are still allowed to use it on the people) can and do kill people.
posted by entropone at 11:33 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


No, it would impact the pilots most likely. They're on the same recycled air system. The filter would probably mitigate, but not entirely. It's not a sealed capsule on the front.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:41 AM on January 31


I think it would be a bad idea to give anybody the ability to accidentally pepperspray the pilot of an aircraft.

I also imagine a scenario in which an angry flight attendant sprays a drunk and belligerent but not particularly dangerous passenger, misses, and hits somebody with asthma who subsequently dies.
posted by entropone at 11:43 AM on January 31


"Completely inaccessible... yeah, no, I wouldn't step foot on that plane..."

Um, not much choice if you if you fly commercial .
posted by klarck at 11:43 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Qualifying for the "pre-check" lines really illustrates the silliness of the regular pornoscan screening lines, especially on their less organized days when they are randomly shunting people into both lines regardless of what their boarding passes say. In one line shoes and laptops are fine and a quick metal detector is all it takes, and in the other line you need to assume the position and get the full irradiation. Sometimes even the TSA people seem to be having trouble taking it seriously.

I wrote about my awkward encounters on the job, like having to ask androgynous passengers whether they were male or female

That's a problem I honestly hadn't considered until this moment, and really illustrates the total wrongness of the current approach.

In 2009, one of my friends had run her male colleague through a carry-on X-Ray machine. (It was a slow night.)

I'll admit, I'd totally do this.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:57 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


yoink: "He's sensationalizing pretty heavily with the "I saw you naked" line. The very image used for the article shows just how far from "seeing you naked" the images produced by those machines were."

Did you RTFA? He describes what is visible in the images. Sounds a whole lot like seeing someone naked.
posted by desuetude at 12:04 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Something about this piece makes me feel dirty. I dislike the authorial voice of "I'm smart and enlightened, surrounded by knuckle draggers who wouldn't know Algeria from an infectious disease." No, asshole, if you are enlightened, then you knew better than to violate people's dignity and rights, which makes you worse than the knuckle draggers.

And not to mention, my bullshit meter was going wild when I read the slightly too perfect details.

It just reads like the work of a hack who thinks he can make a quick buck.
posted by jayder at 12:15 PM on January 31


Qualifying for the "pre-check" lines really illustrates the silliness of the regular pornoscan screening lines, especially on their less organized days when they are randomly shunting people into both lines regardless of what their boarding passes say. In one line shoes and laptops are fine and a quick metal detector is all it takes, and in the other line you need to assume the position and get the full irradiation. Sometimes even the TSA people seem to be having trouble taking it seriously.

Just to clarify, The TSA stopped using backscatter machines in May 2013. Nobody is being exposed to any amount of ionizing radiation anymore.

Did you RTFA? He describes what is visible in the images. Sounds a whole lot like seeing someone naked

This will become an issue of semantics: he saw you "naked" in the same way that those pictures at the top of the page are naked. To quote the article:

"Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area."

On the other hand, there were also routine moments where the staff couldn't distinguish men from women. In short, this really wasn't conventional nudity and seems to be about as anonymous as previously guaranteed. Still, it's obviously more naked than some people are going to be comfortable being.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:19 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I know it's easy to pick a side WRT to x-ray scanners and what one can and cannot see -- but that's not the point of the blog. The blog clearly shows how the shitiness of an organization really does flow from the top. The organization is mismanaged, and the people at the top really should be prosecuted given the amount of financial impropriety related to the scanners.

And who gives a fuck about fantasy scenarios involving ninja flight attendants and sealed doors. In my experience, attendants can't even be assertive enough to force assholes with huge bags to check them once they get them on the plane. They aren't going to defend you against a violent crazy person, let alone a group of them who are well organized. I don't care if they have mace or knives or specialized attack cats.

This is the same mental disease which created the TSA in the first place -- no one is going to take care of you just because someone gives them a uniform or a weapon -- they have to have the temperament, abilities, training and be put in a environment where all of that is turned towards positive ends. All of this is harder and less obviously rewarding to politicians and armchair security experts than putting up a beepy arch, slapping a badge on someone and telling them they are saving lives.
posted by smidgen at 12:22 PM on January 31 [10 favorites]


I liked the article a great deal. I find all the moaning about the author's tone or hairsplitting about whether the author was properly "sworn" to be completely beside the point. The author is just merely confirming what anybody who flies in a commercial airplane already knows: that TSA is an authoritarian dog-and-pony show that does diddlysquat to actually enhance anybody's security.
posted by jonp72 at 12:30 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


The author is just merely confirming what anybody who flies in a commercial airplane already knows

Surprising then that we all liked it so much :)
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 12:34 PM on January 31


The thing about making the cockpit completely inaccessible sets the clock back pre-9/11 when hijackings where of the "take me to Havana/give me a ransom" categories.

Reaaly? I think the 300 or so people killed in hijackings just in the 1970's would have to differ.
posted by Gungho at 12:59 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Did you RTFA? He describes what is visible in the images. Sounds a whole lot like seeing someone naked.

Ayup. Hence my claim that he is sensationalizing. It's easy enough to find genuine backscatter x-ray images online. They are not, at all, like "seeing you naked." (Although there are also lots of fake images out there which are taken from negatives of real photos of real naked people produced by people who wanted to whip up controversy--so watch out for those).
posted by yoink at 1:02 PM on January 31


Yeah, jader, while I hate the TSA experience, I was also put off by how the young author seemed desperate to establish (with art references, etc.) that he was somehow superior inside to all his co-workers. It was as if they were losers for not aspiring to go to MFA school and write satire articles for McSweeneys. I hope that in future assignments he picks up more of an eye for the humanity of the other people around him, even if they have the mindset of police state goons.

On the other hand I am glad that there's another wave of disapproval of the TSA today. I was starting to think it ended after "Don't Touch My Junk" and a weird Mark Ames article in The Nation minimizing anti-TSA feeling as an anti-union conspiracy. Last time I was at the airport I was so sad to see TSA having become such a permanent part of flying that they were now trying to improve the brand by creating an #airtunes hashtag and quoting Led Zeppelin in tray covers.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:17 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


"(2) the interaction of the First Amendment with a government employee is complex. He may be right. But who knows, because he can't appeal anything."

Can you go into this a bit more? I know that the government has broad exemptions as an employer (this goes into it somewhat), but I'd imagine that TSA employees are union, and should have some sort of grievance procedure for appealing discipline based on speech outside of their jobs.
posted by klangklangston at 1:26 PM on January 31


I think it would be a bad idea to give anybody the ability to accidentally pepperspray the pilot of an aircraft.

I also imagine a scenario in which an angry flight attendant sprays a drunk and belligerent but not particularly dangerous passenger, misses, and hits somebody with asthma who subsequently dies.


I was once leaving a public fireworks event and found myself coughing. Then I noticed that everyone else passing through that location was coughing too. I reasoned that the police had used pepper spray there recently.

That was outdoors, a stone's throw from the ocean, with a light breeze. In a small metal tube with recycled air on a long-haul flight? The pilots are going to be blurry-eyed no matter who was sprayed.

I think most people have absolutely no concept of just how horrible these weapons are.
posted by swr at 1:36 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


I used to opt out and now I don't because it feels futile. So that's sad.

I know what you mean and it's really frustating. I do opt out because those things creep the fuck out of me but it's a huge hassle, for my husband as well as me (he's super patient but it always takes longer and he has to get my stuff). Recently when we were in the airport we almost missed our flight because it takes so long to get someone to respond to the repeated but half-hearted calls of "female assist!" (we were running late anyway but that always takes FOREVER).

Also, on our last trip the woman patting me down gave me a lecture on why I should really use the scanners. She asked me why I didn't want to, tried to shoot down all my reasons, told me it would be faster and easier, and all of this happened WHILE SHE WAS TOUCHING ME. It was really creepy and intimidating and, if we'd had time, I would have reported her. I have the right to opt out and that means I shouldn't be harassed for it. WTF.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:40 PM on January 31 [9 favorites]


I'd imagine that TSA employees are union

hahahahahahaha
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:41 PM on January 31


hahahahahahaha

[Quizzical dog] Most TSA employees are represented by the AFGE-TSA. A very powerful union. Is this one of those "it's funny because it's true" things?
posted by yoink at 1:48 PM on January 31


He's sensationalizing pretty heavily with the "I saw you naked" line. The very image used for the article shows just how far from "seeing you naked" the images produced by those machines were.

In my professional capacity, I consulted on the introduction of body scanners in Australia in 2011. We spent a lot of time looking at the machine used in the US, and the images they produced. When the machines were first introduced, they did in fact show an extremely clear and detailed picture, as the author of the FPP describes. It was only after massive public outcry that (in the US) 'privacy' filters were introduced to degrade the image into something that TSA couldn't masturbate furiously over - the image used to illustrate the article is what the images looks like after the filters have been applied.

It's easy enough to find genuine backscatter x-ray images online.


No, it really isn't. They only images you will find online are the ones manfuacturers and governments have released to try and downplay the privacy implications of the machines (which they have done their best to make inoffensive), or images from older machines that governments have allowed to be released under Freedom of Information or similar. The governments involved worked very hard not to release images that would turn the public against the tech. (even more).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:00 PM on January 31 [22 favorites]


they did in fact show an extremely clear and detailed picture, as the author of the FPP describes

Actually, as noted above, his own descriptions are inconsistent and show that he was not, in fact, seeing detailed images of the bodies. As for your claims to seeekrit knowledge about super seeekrit hi-res images. Well, unfortunately such claims are, by their nature, unprovable. Personally, I find them implausible. Thoughout the entire history of the development and marketing of this tech, not a single one of the "real" images ever got released to the public--in any of the nations that has used them? That's a degree of secrecy I see no reason to believe any government organization capable of maintaining.
posted by yoink at 2:18 PM on January 31


A very powerful union.

A union that cannot strike is powerful? Perhaps that's true in 2014.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:19 PM on January 31


A union that cannot strike is powerful?

Police unions cannot strike. They are extremely powerful. So the answer is, "it depends."
posted by yoink at 2:21 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I'd imagine that the TSA could do a slowdown pretty easily by simply following procedures to the letter. You get enough people missing flights, that's as good as a strike.
posted by klangklangston at 2:56 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying that the screening images are exactly the same as a high-resolution, clear, well-lighted photograph of a naked person. I said that his description sounds a lot like seeing someone naked. Meaning, comparable.

I don't think that "naked" is a far-fetched way to describe being able to see intimate characteristics of someone's bare body -- like hernias and piercings and dimples in fat -- that are otherwise completely concealed by their clothing.

If you're assuming that I always opt out, you'd be right.
posted by desuetude at 3:10 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


If you're assuming that I always opt out, you'd be right.

They no longer use those machines. No one's seeing anything anyone could think of as "intimate" any more.
posted by yoink at 3:17 PM on January 31


If you're assuming that I always opt out, you'd be right.

They no longer use those machines. No one's seeing anything anyone could think of as "intimate" any more.


To add some flesh to this, we can go to Gizmodo's One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans, a gallery of leaked body scans taken using millimeter wave scanners. They are in no way the equivalent of nudity. (Of course, if one wishes to opt-out because you feel like this is an overreach by the security state / waste of resources / any other statement, feel free. But health & nakedness are pretty much off the table as issues, and those can be regarded as victories for the people. Or, if you're paranoid, a way that we are keeping ourselves trapped in a mentality of travel paranoia. Either one.)
posted by Going To Maine at 3:21 PM on January 31


To add some flesh to this, we can go to Gizmodo's One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans

Yes, though I will concede that these are pretty extraordinarily low-res images. Still, it's a good indication of the level of hysteria in the reporting on this issue that Gizmodo goes with the "Naked Citizens" headline when the very video they accompany the story with shows that you'd be hard pressed to identify these images as being of human beings, let alone seeing them as "porn."
posted by yoink at 3:26 PM on January 31


(1) he's not an officer or an agent, he's a screener.

(2) the interaction of the First Amendment with a government employee is complex. He may be right. But who knows, because he can't appeal anything.

That's great. Do you have any commentary on the substance of his story, or is this just one dead messenger we're dealing with?
posted by jaduncan at 2:13 PM on January 31 [10 favorites +] [!]


the TSA doesn't pay screeners shit. So they get shit. Frankly, we do need security. People do things on planes, attempting to blow them up, blowing them up, flying them into buildings, hijacking them. So we ought to make sure folks are safe. Basically, its the same screening as before, with the liquids thing thrown in.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:53 PM on January 31


This article was great mostly for the way it humanizes the screeners. Part of TSA image is that it's this faceless, anonymous, not-quite-security force that's groping you and taking your shampoo away in the name of freedom. Now we know something about the mindset of at least one of these guys, albeit a thoughtful, unhappy one. Still it's a new perspective and one I'm grateful for.
posted by Nelson at 4:10 PM on January 31


"To add some flesh to this, we can go to Gizmodo's One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans, a gallery of leaked body scans taken using millimeter wave scanners. They are in no way the equivalent of nudity."

From Gizmodo: "A Gizmodo investigation has revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida courthouse had improperly-perhaps illegally-saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens."

The scanners used by the TSA were different, RapiScan.

From his blog, he has purported images that look like they were edited down for the illustration to his article.

I thought he had mentioned somewhere in there that the only images that had gotten out were from different scanners, compelled by FOIA, but now I can't find that quote. I will say that if the scanner itself was not saving images, it would be much less surprising that very few have gotten out.

"I was also put off by how the young author seemed desperate to establish (with art references, etc.) that he was somehow superior inside to all his co-workers."

Bless your beatific soul that you've never been the lone competent person at a workplace, surrounded by morons.
posted by klangklangston at 4:10 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Protip to anyone who wants to always easily opt out of the pornoscanners, carry on a pet. You go through a regular old metal detector and they swipe your hands with bomb paper. Then they say nice things to your doggie and smile a lot and generally act like human beings. They don't even touch your boobies or nothing. Highly recommended.
posted by phunniemee at 4:10 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


"Protip to anyone who wants to always easily opt out of the pornoscanners, carry on a pet."

Yeah, but as has been mentioned earlier, you don't really have to opt out, since they stopped using the porno scanners.

They're still ineffective as security apparatuses, though.
posted by klangklangston at 4:12 PM on January 31



Just to clarify, The TSA stopped using backscatter machines in May 2013. Nobody is being exposed to any amount of ionizing radiation anymore.


Is this the case for the machines used in the UK or Australia?
posted by acb at 5:01 PM on January 31


The TSA stopped using backscatter machines in May 2013.

I bet those machines could be actually useful in some industrial/art/science capacity, scanning non-living things. I wonder what's become of them? Decaying somewhere in a giant warehouse next to the arc of the covenant?
posted by anonymisc at 5:16 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, The TSA stopped using backscatter machines in May 2013. Nobody is being exposed to any amount of ionizing radiation anymore.

Is this the case for the machines used in the UK or Australia?


Australia went with millimetre wave radar based machines from the beginning - they never used the backscatter x-ray option.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:19 PM on January 31


As for your claims to seeekrit knowledge about super seeekrit hi-res images. Well, unfortunately such claims are, by their nature, unprovable. Personally, I find them implausible.

Sure, whatever. I was just adding a perspective. I have no interest in convincing you of anything.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:21 PM on January 31


Hey kangklangston, just for clarity: I absolutely agree that the author was talking about backscatter, not millimeter wave - heck, there's a suggestion in the article that the author played a role in effecting the switch. It just seems that there's a persistent thread in the conversation about how people are going to get radiation poisoning or be seen naked by the machines, and that isn't true. There's plenty for folks to be irate about, but this particular issue no longer exists.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:23 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


If you have some hours to spare (like I apparently do) I highly recommend reading the actual blog, from the beginning- it's fascinating. Within a really short span of time it goes from almost no readers, to all these people coming out of the woodwork to share their own crazy stories (both passengers and screeners.) I also really like the "Letters from a Passenger" entries- so many of the questions people asked are questions I've wondered myself, so it's interesting to see someone from the TSA side comment on his perspective about it. And there are lots of links to other really interesting articles throughout the blog.

. . . Now I need to go back to reading it.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 7:35 PM on January 31


> you don't really have to opt out, since they stopped using the porno scanners.

Personally, I'm still opting out of any kind of imaging scanner. My trust is too broken at this point. Not that I think that the millimeter wave machines are secretly producing pornoscans or anything, I recognize that they generate indistinct images. But the TSA has demonstrated over and over that that they will lie about equipment and policies, and that they have no respect for the concept of personal privacy, so...no, I'm not going to consent to let them see beneath my clothes as a matter of routine, that crosses a line for me.
posted by desuetude at 7:36 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


The thing about making the cockpit completely inaccessible sets the clock back pre-9/11 when hijackings where of the "take me to Havana/give me a ransom" categories.

Reaaly? I think the 300 or so people killed in hijackings just in the 1970's would have to differ.


300 or so people over ten years is such a small, insignificant number that only shows how small the relative risk is. That's ten times less than the number of people who died of clamydia in 2010 (source), it's a hundred times fewer deaths in automobile incidents in 2011 (just one year, so roughly a thousand times more risky, admittedly no allowances made for the larger population exposed to risk in 2011 than the 70s), it's in the same league as random strikes of lightning in terms of danger (449 US deaths in the decade 1998 - 2008 - link). Even for all US flying (the safest per mile form of travel) fatalities in the 70s, intentional sabotage and hijacking is the cause of just ~13% link.

Sometimes I fantasize about starting an airline called "You Pay Your Money You Take Your Chances" where the whole security / check in theatre is dispensed with. You show up, as if for a bus or train or whatever, and just walk on board. You can show up 5 minutes before departure, no problem. Obviously, you won't be protected by magical ziplock bags from your co-passenger's gels and liquids, but the lack of nonsense will surely make up for that (as well as be worth a hefty premium on the fare). I think this idea is genius, though I admit I could use a better name.
posted by bumpkin at 7:38 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I would love to hear more about research into terahertz radiation.

I would not like to be forced through a device that produces such emissions.

It's rude.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 PM on January 31


I would love to hear more about research into terahertz radiation.

I would not like to be forced through a device that produces such emissions.


That is definitely an issue with THz technology, although I personally think any health risks are minimal to zero (unlike the backscatter X-ray machines, glad they aren't in use anymore), at least at the extremely low power levels used by a scanner. No worse than the RF emissions from cell phones, microwave communication links, etc we're inundated with continuously.

That being said, I think most of the TSA scanning process is pure security-theater bullshit. I think the best example is removing shoes - I'm a frequent flyer who's flown to dozens of countries (including a few with far more serious terrorism issues than the US) and US airports are still the *only* place where I've ever had to get my shoes X-rayed as part of the screening process.
posted by photo guy at 6:48 AM on February 1


I wish everyone would always opt out. I always do.

I'm not terribly concerned about the radiation. Yes, the radiation represents entirely unjustified risks. And I'd laugh if TSA screeners actually got cancer more often. Yet, the radiation from merely flying poses risks as well.

I'm definitely not worried about being seen naked. I'd applaud if they made everyone pass through security naked actually.

I simply resent the fact they they spent so much tax money on such transparently useless graft.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on February 1


And I'd laugh if TSA screeners actually got cancer more often.

WTF?
posted by yoink at 7:30 AM on February 1


WTF?

WTF indeed. The TSA screeners were lied to and had their concerns dismissed just like the traveling public (as is indeed mentioned in this FPP). I could see wishing bad things onto the politicians and high-level administrators who made the decisions about the pornoscanners, but not on the poorly treated and poorly paid screeners.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:44 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


It's commonly said that TSAgents weren't paid much better than mall cops, McDonald's or Walmat "team members". How accurate was that?
posted by Mezentian at 8:49 AM on February 1


My "friend" works at a cat X airport (the largest size). He makes over $15 an hour. I know Walmat doesn't pay that much. There are also benefits. But at my "friend"'s airport, he only gets 20 hours per week. It is very hard to live in an expensive area on $16,000 a year.

At this moment, only the millimeter detection machines are in use. But that could change at any time, since TSA has signed a contract to develop new back scatter X-ray machines.

My "friend" did work on the back scatter machine. He was told to not stand too close to the machine by a coworker. He saw thousands of the images. After the first week, the novelty wore off, and it was a nice quiet position where he didn't have to deal with passengers or coworkers. In his boredom, he studied the machine's "manual" that explained the different ways to measure radiation. It also had images without the privacy filters. Those images, he says, were very detailed, but the ones he saw? Not so much.

And I'd laugh if TSA screeners actually got cancer more often.


Not the worse thing my "friend" has heard. My "friend" takes personal pride in dealing with upset passengers. He says it is a fun challenge to be polite while someone is yelling at you, and to try to get the passenger to understand why they have to follow an inane policy handed down from high. At the same time, he know that a lot of his coworkers don't feel the same way. And that a lot of his local higher ups have maxed out their career potential and can't make as much or more money anywhere else. That there is a manager who is a stickler for following the rules even after he explains how stupid they are (because he could get into trouble, too....)

My "friend" says it is still better than working in one of the Disney parks.
posted by "friend" of a TSA Agent at 11:54 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


It's commonly said that TSAgents weren't paid much better than mall cops, McDonald's or Walmat "team members". How accurate was that?

Given that McDonald's advises its employees to have a second full-time job to make ends meet and many Wal-Mart employees are on food stamps, that's not a terribly high benchmark.
posted by acb at 4:09 AM on February 2


Given that McDonald's advises its employees to have a second full-time job to make ends meet

I have to be honest and say that after my initial feeling that the CEO should have their face pushed in a deep fat fryer this just seems proufoundly sad.
posted by jaduncan at 3:31 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Rebranding The TSA To Suck Less
posted by homunculus at 5:13 PM on February 4


Rebranding The TSA To Suck Less

A cute idea, but would it be better to actually make them suck less, then just masking the suckiness with image management?

The TSA looks bad because it sucks at everything it does; it doesn't suck because it looks bad.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:46 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


Letter from a Passenger: I Made a Bagful of Peanut Butter Crackers and Was No Longer Considered a Terrorist Threat
posted by homunculus at 1:48 PM on February 18


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